It’s late July in Boise and the ice at CenturyLink Arena won’t return for a few months. Yet there are still athletes, in pads and on skates, putting on a performance downtown.
The Treasure Valley Roller Derby celebrates its tenth season this summer and takes the arena floor this Saturday night for the third time this season when the Boise River Rollers take on the Ladies of the Lake out of Salt Lake City. If you’re a sports fan that likes to be right up close to the action, these women on wheels are your weekend ticket.
“We want it to be fun and to be a grassroots effort that really gets the fans involved,” said Rebekah Wagner, the Director of Marketing and Sponsorship for the TVRD and also a blocker for the Treasure Valley All-Stars team.
The sport is played in two 30-minute periods with 2-minute scoring sessions called ‘jams’. Each team has five players on the floor at a time with four blockers and one jammer. With both teams skating around the rink in the same direction, the jammer tries to lap the opposing team to score points while the blockers run interference for her. It’s a physical contest, and with fans seated right up to the edge of the playing surface, Wagner says sometimes you might think a player will end up in your lap in the front row.
While the goal is obviously to keep the athletes out of the audience, an interactive fan experience is one of the key elements to a night at the roller derby.
“We try to make it fun for everyone,” said Wagner. “We want to replicate some of what the Steelheads have in place, to get the families involved and to be fun and interactive.”
That includes a lot of work out in the community. The league is a nonprofit that promotes local charities, like this weekend’s promotion supporting Bells for Books and the Garden City Public Library.
But the strongest fan connection happens in the arena. It really is an experience, in addition to a sport, that invites fans to not just love their team, but also to identify with the players. While you may know these women outside the arena as Rebekah or Deanna, inside the building fans will recognize names like ‘Demolition Barbie’ and ‘Riot Earp’. The women aren’t just athletes, but also personas, harkening back to the original derby culture.
“The skaters choose a name they want to skate under,” said Wagner, who’s known on the rink as Aralia Spine. “It’s often a play on words that identifies with the player and represents who you feel you are.”
It connects with the fans as well, with the core die-hards in the crowd sporting the jerseys of their favorite players and some going a step further.
“There’s a girl on our team who goes by the name ‘T-Wrecks’, and her fans show up to the arena with inflatable T-Rex dolls,” laughed Wagner.
It’s just another element to involve as many people in the game as possible, an effort on which the TVRD prides itself. Wagner has been with Treasure Valley Roller Derby for the past four years and says that CenturyLink Arena is one of the ‘coolest’ venues she has competed in. Part of that is fan involvement and the atmosphere, and the fact that it really is for people from all walks of life.
“People come down looking for something different,” said Wagner, noting the Junior Gems program that introduces youths ages nine to 17 to roller derby. “People of all ages come down, some of them not having skated since they were children, and we teach them the basics and introduce them to a worldwide network of friends.”
“Everyone comes for their own reasons, and everyone stays because it gives them something they are looking for.”
There are two more roller derby events this summer at CenturyLink Arena, with Saturday night’s contest followed by another on August 13th. Fans in attendance Saturday night will be treated to double the action, as the Boise Bombers and Utah Scorpions make their CenturyLink Arena debuts in wheelchair rugby, a match that will feature several Paralympians.
Treasure Valley Roller Derby gives fans an up close look at one of the country’s growing sports, one of skill that provides a fast-paced atmosphere and comradery on the rink and in the stands. Simply, there’s something for everyone.
“It’s like NASCAR with people,” said Wagner, “and with a little football and hockey thrown in for good measure.”